If there’s a dish that Sydney has no shortage but cannot get enough of, it’s phở, the quintessential Vietnamese dish born from the north of Vietnam and adopted as a national symbol. Since westerners grew increasingly bored with sweet and sour pork and egg spring rolls, phở has supplanted their place in Sydney’s consciousness ever since. Furious debates have been known to erupt as to where the best phở is, and how to best eat it. Now, I am about to join the fray.
Along the bustling John Street that is the beating heart of Cabramatta, I venture off into an alleyway to find Ann Vietnamese Restaurant (aka Pho Ann to the locals). Inside, I’m greeted by aromas of herbs and a melange of different simmering broths ready to serve as soon as the order comes – and they do as I, my partner and her brother order our preferred bowls.
We know we’re in good hands as we surveyed the menu plaque on the wall and found nothing but an intimidating array of phở. Fundamentally, a bowl of phở does not spring to life until the primordial soup that is the broth makes contact with the rice noodles cooking and imparting its enriching flavours into the meat. From there, the bowl is garnished with herbs to form the familiar lagoon we have come to recognise today.
My bowl of Phở Tái arrives looking like a steaming lake, slowly cooking the sliced raw beef sitting atop the rice noodles. Taking a spoonful from this life-giving elixir revealed a balanced broth rich in beef blending into a secret mix of spices unbeknownst to outsiders. I decide to add a bit of lemon zest for a bit of tang, and chilli sauce for some heat to tickle my tastebuds. Now, my soup has morphed into an oasis of silken rice noodles, tender slivers of meat, and an assortment of bean sprouts, holy basil and coriander all blanched to bring an eclectic fusion of textures. So much goes on and yet so little is lost in each mouthful as different ingredients vie for attention but then meld into harmony upon chewing, readying my mouth for the next bite. But I’m not strictly confined to my bowl, as the cooked beef can be dipped into satay adding another layer of depth to the dish. This is paradise.
Curious as to how my partner’s bowl of phở served with beef brisket tasted, I was given a piece to end my creeping gaze into her bowl. Supple and buttery from the sliver of fat, it slowly dissolved in my mouth piece by piece, oozing its broth-imbibed flesh taking me to a different place altogether. I want another, her offering of one piece couldn’t appease me as I helped myself to a spoonful of her soup. Unlike mine, it doesn’t have the heat I’m accustomed to and had less tang, I emptied my bowl upon a return to mine.
With my bowl dry as a bone, I looked at my partner’s brother, a self-proclaimed phở aficionado, for his verdict: “Best phở in Australia!” he declared. And it’s hard to dispute that, when you look at the broth, shrouded in mystery and yet full of flavour without globs of lard, traces of fish sauce, or sugary overload. The rice noodles are handcut and silky, condiments are plentiful allowing you to terraform your own bowl of paradise and the garnishes provided are fresh. Yes, I can hear the screams declaring how wrong I am, how there’s a joint just down the road or in another town altogether serving the best. Like scores of Italian men swearing by their mother’s and nona’s pasta to be the best, the Vietnamese are just as passionate about phở. It’s a personal dish, not because some might have grown up with it, but because there are so many ways to enjoy it and while there’s no ‘right’ way to eat phở, I will take offense if you mindlessly add condiments to your bowl before savouring the broth. Speaking of which, I could go for another now.
~ Jambon CochonComments powered by Disqus